Field of Science

Jared Diamond sued by tribesmen

Jared Diamond is being sued for $10 million (email me for a free pdf). He wrote an article for The New Yorker last year, telling a story of revenge warfare in Papua New Guinea. The two tribesmen who waged war on each other, Wemp and Mandingo, have joined forces with each other and none other than Stephen Jay Gould's widow, Rhonda Roland Shearer, to sue Diamond and Advance Publications Inc. over alleged errors concerning the events that Diamond reported on.

Diamond explains that he interviewed Wemp in 2006 and took detailed notes on which the article is based. Part of the story is that Diamond was reporting not as a scientist, but as a journalist, and that for those two spheres very different rules apply. In science one would report in a neutral fashion, not naming names. But in journalism including names is the default practice, in part so that people can check what is written.

This lawsuit should be thrown out immediately, in my opinion. Wemp et al. charge that some of the events reported on are erroneous, such that the war started when a pig destroyed a garden and lasted three years. Instead they say that the cause was a gambling dispute and lasted only a few months. So... demand $10 million in damages? Kick me if that makes any sense! But still, Diamond contends this is all irrelevant, because he took careful notes during the interview with Wemp. So Wemp exaggerated, gloated, and lied, and Diamond got some facts wrong. What of it?

Imagine the negative consequences if Wemp, Mandingo, and Shearer wins the suit. Every time an interview is made, the journalist has to fear that he is being lied to, and that the interviewee will later demand retributions for defamation. If the article is factually wrong, it should be retracted (in fact that did happen to the free online version), but anything more than that makes little sense to me. And consider the consequences of filling the pockets of the likes of Wemp who kill people in tribal wars:
Whether or not Diamond got the facts of Wemp’s case right, it is true that the tribes of PNG do practice revenge warfare, says [anthropologist Pauline] Wiessner, who has studied war in PNG’s Enga Province, just north of the region where Wemp and Mandingo live. In Enga, more than 300 tribal wars have taken the lives of nearly 4000 people since 1991. That’s one reason Wiessner, who is active in local efforts to bring peace to PNG clans, is worried about the outcome of the case if it results in a large monetary award: She fears that the money could eventually go to buy weapons that would make the wars even more deadly. “When these wars first started, they were fought with bows and arrows, but now they have M-16s,” she says.


  1. So you're an evolutionary biologist. No wonder you defend Jared Diamond, another neo-Social Darwinist.

  2. Until I see evidence otherwise, I will defend the integrity that Diamond has built over decades. The evidence in this case does not change any of that, that I can see.

    And that Diamond is a social Darwinist is not true (neither am I). If you could tell me why you say that, I would be obliged. (And if neo-social Darwinist is something else, please inform me.)

  3. ***No wonder you defend Jared Diamond, another neo-Social Darwinist.***

    This is ironic given that Diamond, in Guns Germs & Steel, avoids mentioning that people become somewhat genetically adapted to their environment through natural selection. It's only more recent books like 'The 10,000 Year Explosion' or 'Before the Dawn' by NY Times science writer Nicholas Wade, that point this out.


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